A British child left orphaned by the collapse of the Islamic State caliphate has been repatriated from Syria, the Foreign Office has said.
The child is understood to be the first to have returned to the UK from Syria since November, when a small number of other unaccompanied British children were repatriated.
No details of the child’s identity can be reported. Save the Children had been caring for the child at a care centre in a Kurdish-run camp in north-east Syria that houses tens of thousands displaced by the civil war, a spokeswoman for the charity said.
Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, announced the repatriation on Twitter on Wednesday morning. “As I have said previously, we assess each case carefully,” Raab said. “Safely facilitating the return of orphans or unaccompanied British children, where possible, is the right thing to do.”
Pleased we have been able to bring home a British child from Syria. As I have said previously, we assess each case carefully. Safely facilitating the return of orphans or unaccompanied British children, where possible, is the right thing to do.
— Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) September 16, 2020
In a subsequent statement issued by the Foreign Office, Raab said his department would “take the necessary and secure steps” to bring unaccompanied British children back from Syria. “These are children who have experienced the worst horrors of war,” he added.
The child’s mother, who also cannot be identified for legal reasons, had left Britain for Syria to align herself with Islamic State, the PA Media news agency reported. Her whereabouts are unknown.
The child’s repatriation comes in spite of disquiet within the Home Office at the return of children last year. At the time, a Home Office source told the Guardian the department felt there were “legitimate security concerns” about the return of orphans from Syria.
“Returnees, even children, are a security risk,” the source said. “Our view is that repatriations can only be looked at on a case-by-case basis.”
Orlaith Minogue, from Save the Children, said most of the estimated 43,000 children in al-Hawl north-east Syria’s largest displacement camp, were under the age of 12, and that half were under the age of five.
She said it was unclear whether there were more unaccompanied British orphans yet to be returned to the UK, but that it was clear the UK government was prepared to do everything it could to repatriate such children.
Minogue said the majority of British children still living in the camps – as many as 60 – remained with their mothers, whom the British government were refusing to repatriate. Syrian-Kurdish authorities have previously indicated they would be unlikely to allow families to be separated to allow such children to return home alone.
“These children also need to be brought back home to the UK,” Minogue said.